By Kathleen Smith | Texas Medical Center News
When visitors first set foot in Hospitality Apartments, they’re enveloped in feelings of warmth and safety. Waiting at the front desk are volunteers who show guests into a common area called the community room, decorated to feel like home. Homemade quilts adorn comfy sofas, books overflow their shelves, tabletops are covered with magazines, and a piano and television await the gathering that will form that evening.
These are no ordinary apartments, however. Originally established by members of the Bering Drive Church of Christ in 1968, Hospitality Apartments provide free, temporary housing to out-of-town patients seeking treatment at Texas Medical Center hospitals. The group that established the apartments now operates as the Human Resources Development Foundation and is an independent, nonprofit foundation supported by individuals, foundations, businesses and more than 20 local churches representing multiple denominations.
And they take their hospitality to heart – and seriously. Just ask Gladys Nicholas. Gladys and her husband Paul, a squamous cell carcinoma survivor treated at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, are the resident managers. “For us, this is home,” Gladys said.
Hospitality Apartments are located at 7300 Bertner, near Old Spanish Trail. Forty-six fully furnished units are each equipped with two twin beds, a chest of drawers, a nightstand, full bath and shower, a double-size futon, a kitchenette complete with coffee maker, toaster and breakfast-size table and chairs, a recliner, satellite-ready television and DVD player. Each apartment also comes with linens, cookware and dinnerware, and a “welcome bag” for new guests.
Laundromat-style washers and dryers are available for use in each wing of the apartments. Guests are responsible for purchasing their own detergent. While Hospitality Apartments does not charge a fee for the use of any of its apartments, there is a $45 cleaning fee due at check-in, which covers the cost of a cleaning company that prepares the room for the next guest.
“It’s not fancy, but it works,” said Rocky Forshey, the volunteer coordinator at Hospitality Apartments. “We try to make the environment comfortable and most of all, safe.”
This year, the apartments celebrated 44 years of service. In 2008, Hospitality Apartments were built anew after the original structures – WWII Army barracks relocated to the Texas Medical Center from Ellington Field – were demolished.
Guests may stay from two weeks to three months at a time. They must also live more than 50 miles from the Houston area and have a caregiver, such as a family member or friend, stay with them while in residence.
The typical stay last year averaged 59 nights, Forshey said. After a stay, guests are not eligible to stay again until a three-month block of time has passed. Patients are not selected based on financial status, and there are no restrictions, except patients with communicable diseases are not permitted to stay.
Hospitality Apartments have housed nearly 7,000 patients from 67 countries and every state in the union except Rhode Island.
Gladys and Paul Nicholas understand what it’s like to arrive in a new country. The couple are natives of San Juan, Puerto Rico and stayed at Hospitality Apartments seven times in 18 years. The apartments were a godsend, Gladys said, recalling the time that she and Paul had run out of money and considered sleeping in their car or at a Salvation Army during Paul’s treatment. Eventually the couple were asked to be managers.
“We feel we have developed a new family here,” Gladys said. “This is a nice facility, but it’s the people who make it work.”
Hospitality House is run entirely by about 50 volunteers, and has never had a paid employee. Support comes in the form of donations.
Last year, 97 percent of the apartments’ residents were MD Anderson patients, Forshey said. The MD Anderson shuttle runs every 15 minutes, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“Patients have enough in common to build camaraderie, no matter where they’re from or what their circumstances are,” Forshey said. “A lot goes on here, beyond providing a place to stay.”
Forshey said once or twice a month, area churches come to the community room to host dinners. Entertainment is always provided – usually singing of some sort, he said. “Here,” Forshey said, “everyone is welcome.”
For more information, visit www.hospitalityapartments.org or call (713) 790-9120.